Japanese-English: friendly, familiar, and always there to reassure you. Japanese-Japanese: seldom traveled and often misunderstood. There are dozens of posts and discussions on this site about going from J-E to J-J, the difficulties, and strategies to take. But one thing is common. It is taken as a given that you will want to go from J-E to J-J, and never look back. However, this leaves a puzzling question to many. Why?
No. One of the major bases of the JALUP method is not what most people commonly do. I would say that around 70% of people who study Japanese to a somewhat high level (40+) will never have used a Japanese-Japanese dictionary.
Can you become fluent in Japanese without ever going J-J?
Yes, you can. However, you are giving yourself a serious handicap and can expect the following:
– Longer length of time to reach fluency
– Not have the same grasp of Japanese or in depth knowledge of the language as someone who is fluent that studied through J-J
Will the switch to J-J hinder your progress because you have to spend significant more time on learning words than you used to?
Yes, but only temporarily. As with any significant change in habits, at first you will be slowed down. I think that it usually takes around 700-1000 J-J cards (or 2-3 months) before you finally get used to them and pick up pace. Note though that once you get over this initial hump, your speed and progress will propel at an exponentially faster rate than J-E.
Translation = Time Delay
You have heard this before: “Don’t translate. Understand.” One of the biggest complaints that J-J reluctant intermediate and advanced students have is that that they still translate a lot of Japanese in their head into English and vice versa. Each translation you make in your head adds time to understanding.
You don’t want your conversations to look like this:
Translation in your head takes time. Not a surprise. But a problem (or to some a “solution”), arises. Your J-E translation ability will improve significantly over time. A rough estimate:
Study time Translation Time
1-2 years 4-6 seconds
3-4 years 1-3 seconds
5+ years 0.25-0.50 seconds
As your translation time speeds up, it gives you the impression that you are approaching full comprehension of the language. After all, 0.25-0.50 seconds isn’t exactly a lengthy amount of time. However don’t forget that naturally there is also a slight time span it takes to understand something, and then to say something. By adding this 0.25-0.50 seconds on both ends of a conversation, you are putting a damper on your abilities.
Translation = Tiring
Ever experience having a long night of Japanese conversation with Japanese friends so you decide to switch back to English because you were tired? When you are lower level, this is a non-issue as you will be tired all the time after all Japanese, but this is something I’ve seen with higher level students. Why? Because translation (even that 0.25-0.50 seconds) is a constant strain on your brain and will wear you out quicker than someone who is just understanding and talking.
Do you want to think like a native?
The entire point of immersion methods are to learn like Japanese do, listening and engaging in constant Japanese native material. Well can you guess what Japanese do when they don’t know the meaning of words? They use a J-J dictionary. The only dictionary that exists for them.
Japanese is not English
Please repeat this phrase, over and over.
I know languages are all made by humans to express and exchange thoughts. One would conclude that all languages should be able to be easily translated into each other since there are only a limited amount of thoughts that a human can have.
This is not the way it works. Languages develop in different ways for different reasons.
People like J-E because usually it gives you one or two English words in exchange for the Japanese word you are looking up. This makes it easy to remember: you know the meaning of the English word, so you get an instant connection with the Japanese word.
Fine, except this is an English word that is meant to be used in an English sentence. You already know how wacky Japanese sentences and grammar are. But more importantly, most words have subtle nuances. Just because you know the English definition does not necessarily mean you truly know the Japanese word.
Now is as good a time as ever to finally enter the real Japanese world. Regardless if you’ve been stuck in your J-E ways for years, and have achieved a certain high level of Japanese, just try making the switch and have your eyes opened. If you don’t like it, you can always go back. But I have a feeling you won’t . . .
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.